In a series of reforms over the past year, Moroccan King
Mohammed VI made Tamazight an official language of Morocco. Still, Moroccan
Amazigh leaders say they are polarized by the ethnocentricity of their nation's
Late last year, I spoke with Ahmed Adghirni, the leader of
the Parti Démocratique Amazigh Marocain, who said that despite the new reforms,
the nation's Amazighs are still politically and often economically
disenfranchised. His party was banned in April 2008 when Moroccan courts cited
a law forbidding racially or linguistically defined political organizations.
"The officialization of Tamazight isn't going to do anything
to change the situation and lifestyle of Amazighs," Adghirni said. I am still
participating in the development of Amazigh political representation, and
consolidating their role in the February 20th protest movements."
Amazighists, as they call themselves, like Adghirni say they
oppose Arabist movements such as the UMA.
Explaining his views on the rift between Amazighs and Arabs
in North Africa, Ambassador Gabriel offered an example from his own Lebanese
"Some Lebanese Christians don't call themselves Arabs, they
say they are Phoenicians," Gabriel said, explaining that he is proud of his
Arab and Lebanese roots, which he sees as parts of the same identity.
Abi-Mershed says that the Amazigh-Arab divide is to some
extent a fabrication of French imperialists. "The Berber-Arab rift has become a
legacy of colonialism. Colonialists distinguished between Berbers and Arabs
because it suited their divide and rule policy."
Many genetic studies suggest
that there is actually little difference between the genetic makeups of North
African Amazighs and Arabs.
"When you say what is an Arab you say what is an Arab race,"
explained Abi-Mershed. "It's a 19th century construct that pretends to be
scientific but is not. If you flip through history, there are identities, but
there has been so much mixing that race only comes out in 19th century as
There are some 2.2 million Amazighs in Europe, according to
the most recent figures,
and that doesn't include the large Amazigh populations that have settled in Boston
and French-speaking Canada. Diaspora Moroccans, including Amazighs, contribute
an average $7 billion in remittances every year, according to recent findings.
They might feel a connection to Morocco, but probably not to the Arab world at
large, given that pan-Arabism does little to move you if you do not identify as
more problematic than integrating Amazighs and Christian Arabs into a
neo-Arabist movement is integrating Jewish
Arabs -- a term that has been used rather infrequently since the 1948
founding of Israel.
1948, Jewish Tunisian singer Habiba Msika was
at the forefront of a Tunisian movement against French imperial rule. Egyptian Leila Mourad --
perhaps a more central feature of the mainstream Arab musical-political canon
-- was the Jewish Arab voice, and an official singer of, Nasser's 1952 revolution.